Symptoms of a Bad Timing Chain and Replacement Cost

Most folks tend to overlook a few car components, and one of such parts is the timing chain. A defective timing chain can cause some serious damage to the engine and decreases its performance. However, you would notice some symptoms of a bad timing chain before a complete failure.

Most experienced drivers know that their car’s internal combustion engine uses either a timing chain or belt. Nevertheless, the timing chain is often present in high displacement engines, as they get attached to a set of pulleys and gears.

The timing chain must move the camshaft and crankshaft smoothly before the engine fires. So, the engine won’t start if the timing chain wears out or breaks. You may be wondering what causes the chain to break if it is made of metal and appears strong.

Well, the metal-to-metal contact and other external factors can cause the timing chain to wear over time. Not to worry, the system gives off some signs that hint you at the lingering danger to allow you to replace the worn chain on time.

What is a Time Chain in a Car?

EngineTiming Chain

The engine’s mechanical functionality depends on the timing chain, and it works well for making the engine efficient. The timing chain’s major work is to ensure that the crankshaft movement matches that of the camshaft.

Simply put, this vehicle component ensures that the opening and closing of the engine valves occur at the right time when the cylinder fires. The chain comes with various links that get hooked to the sprockets of the camshaft and crankshaft.

Basically, it moves around its connected gears according to timing that matches when the engine fires. Without a doubt, the contact with the other metals produces some level of friction, but the oil from the engine helps in the timing chain’s lubrication.

Hence, there is a need for a regular oil change to ensure the timing chain moves smoothly whenever you drive your car. Perhaps you are wondering how the timing chain and the connected gears works; here is a glimpse of what happens in the engine.

The pistons drive the crankshaft, and a sprocket on the shaft moves the timing chain. Then, the movement of the timing chain further drives the camshaft, which plays a significant role in operating the valves.

So, when the timing chain is in good condition, the intake and exhaust valves move precisely to the piston’s motion. Such synchronized movement is what most car experts refer to as the ‘correct valve timing.’

The engine design also has the timing chain operating the balance shafts, fuel pump, oil pump, and other engine components. In most engines, you would find the timing chain tensioner to help supply sufficient tension for the chain’s movement

Kindly note that there are two major types of timing chains that you can find in vehicles today. The first is the Link chains designed with various precision links (made of flat alloy steel) bound by pressed pins.

But, the second chain type is the Roller chain that appears similar to those found in bicycles but seems larger. Irrespective of the chain type, you would find them enclosed and situated in the front of your car’s engine.

Can one drive a car with a bad timing chain?

It is pretty bad to drive with a faulty timing chain, as it could cause serious damages to the vehicle’s engine. In worst cases, the car may stop suddenly on the highway, leaving you stranded and putting you at risk.

bad timing symptoms

What is the Timing Chain in Bikes?

Timing chains are not only present in car engines but also in motorcycles. The small roller chain, which seems like the regular bicycle chain, appears to be the timing chain of your bike’s engine. This chain drives the camshaft that sits atop the engine; hence, it is called the ‘cam’ chain.

Nevertheless, some bikes do not have the timing chain but utilize belts and gears for driving the camshaft. Like cars’ engines, the motorcycle engine has valves that take care of the cylinder’s gas exchanges.

These valves can only open or close with the help of the crankshaft. You would find the timing chain of your motorcycle connected to the crankshaft and the camshaft. The basic appearance has the timing chain connected to the sprockets.

Kindly note that the larger sprockets mount on the camshaft while the smaller sprockets mounts on the crankshaft. Like what happens in cars, the crankshaft movement drives the chain of the bike’s engine.

Then, the timing chain gets the camshaft in motion, causing the valves to open and close. There is also a timing chain tensioner with a slider or wheel, which supplies enough pressure for proper chain movement.

In essence, the tensioner supports the chain and removes any excessive slack. Thus, you should look out for symptoms of bad timing chain tensioner in motorcycles if the timing chain system won’t function properly.

Symptoms of bad timing chain

Unlike timing belts, the timing chains of engines appear to have a longer shelf life. Nevertheless, it is common for things to wear with constant use. The accumulated wear of over 150,000 miles of drives can cause some serious damage to the timing chain.

Some experts reveal that car owners should schedule maintenance after 120,000 miles to avoid a faulty timing chain. However, this speculation varies from car to car, and the extent of the wear would depend on the car use.

Still, a loose or broken timing chain spells huge trouble, as it could cause some damages to the pistons and valve. Undoubtedly, such damages can also cause the engine to fail, incurring a new car engine cost.

Thus, try to look out for possible signs that tell you the timing chain is in bad shape. Ignoring the glaring symptoms of a bad timing chain can be disastrous. With that in mind, the following are some symptoms of a faulty timing chain.

Timing Chain Disengaging from the Tensioner or its Idler

The timing chain tensioner provides the chain with sufficient pressure for proper movement. Thus, the car’s engine would come to a halt when the chain disengages from the tensioner. You would start hearing an audible grinding or clattering sound before the engine completely stops.

This sign seems common and can notify you when the chain jumps off a single sprocket. It is imperative to take such symptoms seriously and take the vehicle to an expert mechanic.

Check Engine Light

The CEL warning on your vehicle’s dashboard often comes on when there is an engine problem. As mentioned above, a faulty timing chain would mean serious trouble for the engine. Either the exhaust emission exceeds speculations, or the system exceeds the preset limits of the valve timing.

By now, you should know that the opening and closing of the valve are under the control of the timing chain and tensioner. So, when the check engine light illuminates, it could be a sign that the engine chain is wearing out.

This sign is also one of the symptoms of a bad timing chain tensioner. In most cases, both the tensioner and chain wear out simultaneously; hence you should replace both when the need arises.

Nevertheless, there are a plethora of issues that could make the check engine light come on. So, you may want to conduct further diagnosis using the OBD2 scanner. This diagnostic tool would reveal a code that tells you whether or not the timing chain is in bad shape.

Rattling Sound

Various strange noises seem pretty audible when the timing chain is bad. You would often hear such weird noise when you turn on the engine and warm up the vehicle. Nevertheless, the sound starts to fade off after the engine warms up.

Metal Shavings in the Motor Oil

It seems very common for metal pieces from a breaking timing chain to make their way to the oil pan. Thus, if you change your car’s oil frequently (between 3,000 to 5,000 miles as recommended), you would notice the metal shavings.

When you change your vehicle’s oil, please do not ignore the metal shavings around the filter or in the oil itself. It is a significant sign that tells you if the cylinder head valves are wearing out due to a faulty timing chain.

Engine Misfire

When the timing chain appears broken, it is normal for the valve movement to stop or face some disturbances. Thus, they wouldn’t open or close at the right time to match the rising and falling of the pistons.

When such a situation occurs, the engine’s cylinder would not have any combustion and the engine misfires. This problem is quite alarming, as it can create an unbalance in the air-fuel mixture ratio. So, you can find the vehicle’s engine sputter, and you may experience a rough ride.

Engine Won’t Start

Have you ever experienced that the car wouldn’t start? It could be due to some lousy starter problems. However, if you notice that the vehicle delays to start or wouldn’t come on even when the starter motor engages, the timing chain may be in bad shape.

The engine components won’t move properly with a broken chain, and the engine won’t turn on. This problem may cause the engine to halt while driving, and it is pretty dangerous. In extreme cases, the pistons may get damaged as they meet the valves, and the valve would also get bent.

The Timing Chain Stretches

The constant use of the timing chain makes it start stretching with time. This wear results from the constant work the chain does in moving the engine parts. With that, the timing of the valve’s movement would degrade, causing some other issues.

Hence, the car would start consuming more fuel, and there would be increased roughness, accompanied by low engine powering while driving at low speeds. Supposing the timing chain of your vehicle stretches, you would also hear an unusual rattling sound.

If you take note of one or a combination of these signs in your vehicle, then the timing chain seems faulty. Kindly ensure that you find a solution as soon as possible. Do not wait till the engine fails before contacting the mechanic.

Timing Chain Replacement cost

A bad timing chain can cause some serious problems for your vehicle. Thankfully, the timing chain systems of cars come with a sturdy design, and as such, they last for a long time. Nevertheless, the constant use of the vehicle and some external factors can cause the chain to wear out.

It is recommendable for drivers to avoid driving with a faulty timing chain, as it seems dangerous. When you see some signs of a faulty timing chain, it is crucial to fix the issue before any further damage.

What is the cost of fixing a timing chain? Well, the cost depends on the extent of the chain’s damages. Again, you may find the cost of replacing the chain to vary due to the difference in the price of labor.

However, you can get the parts for $200 to $600, and the average labor cost should be around $400 to $1,000. In essence, you may need to budget between $600 and $1,600 for fixing the timing chain problem.

You can check with the local service station near you to confirm the exact price of replacing your car’s timing chain. You can also purchase the parts and get the chain fixed yourself if you can handle such.

Note: The timing chain replacement is a complex task, and you shouldn’t handle such if you are not skilled. Thus, it would be a better idea to take the car to an expert mechanic.


Q: What does a bad timing chain sound like?

You are often likely to hear a rattling sound from the engine when the timing chain is faulty. As you try to warm up the car, you would hear the weird sound, and after the car warms up, the sound may start dissipating.

In most cases, it may be due to a loose timing chain, as it collides with the other components of the vehicle’s engine. Again, such sound could be one of the ‘timing chains off a tooth’ symptoms or a sign that the chain is wearing out.

Q: What happens when the timing chain goes out?

When the timing chain goes off, the engine won’t start even if the car starter motor engages. This problem occurs since the engine lacks sufficient compression required for it to get the car started. If you’ve been driving and the chain suddenly goes out, the engine may fail.

With such a situation, the engine’s pistons would get damaged as they meet the valves. Also, you would notice that the valve would appear bent from such effect, causing further damages that may ruin the engine completely.

Q: How do you know if your timing chain is stretched?

If the timing chain appears stretched, then the car’s engine would run rough on idle or during acceleration, and you may notice the check engine light turning on. One significant thing that could also occur is the car losing power without any warnings.

With then stretch, the chain may start hitting the cover, and as such, you may hear some weird noise from the engine. It is crucial to fix such a problem on time, as a stretched chain can easily skip a gear, creating an improper timing calibration.

Q: How long will a bad timing chain last?

The timing chain often lasts for a long period, between 40,000 miles and 100,000 miles. The design of the chain is durable, and as such, they last longer than the timing belts present in some vehicles. Thus, there may be no need to change the timing chain until after this duration.

Nevertheless, some external factors may cause the timing chain to wear out sooner than expected. When replacing the timing chain, kindly ensure that an expert mechanic handles it, as the process seems pretty complicated.

Q: Can you tighten a timing chain?

Adjusting the timing chain is possible, as you can either tighten or loosen it to create a synchronized movement within the engine. Performing such action can cause the chain to move well with the timing chain tensioner.

The excessive pressure on the timing chain can often cause it to slack; hence, the need for adjustments. Before you think of tightening the chain, you should first consider the needs of the gears connected to it.

Q: Will the check engine light come on for the timing chain?

When the timing chain fails, the check engine light turns on. By now, you should know that the light illuminates on your dashboard when the vehicle’s computer finds something wrong with the engine.

However, it seems challenging to know the exact reason behind the light when it appears, as various issues could be wrong with the engine’s operation. It could be due to a faulty spark plug or even a low oil pressure. Thus, you should use an OBD2 scanner to tell if the timing chain system is in bad shape.

Final Words

The timing chain plays a significant role in the engine’s proper functioning, as it synchronizes the movement of the valves with the motion of the pistons. However, a failing chain can cause some serious problems for the engine and the overall functioning of the vehicle. Knowing how to check for a bad timing chain may seem like a daunting task.

Hence, it is crucial to learn about the symptoms of a bad timing chain. With these signs, you can easily sense the danger and fix the issues with the timing chain system on time. Thus, you can prevent further damages to the engine and make the car perform optimally.


Hi there, I am R. Hasan Tito, a mechanic, and owner of this website. My friend and I created this website to share our knowledge, expertise, and experience with our fellow mechanics' community and car users. I am a specialist and certified automotive mechanic (Both Heavy Commercial and Private Cars). I worked as a Mechanic and Mechanic Supervisor for over fifteen years at Global Rebound Automotive companies - Toyota, TATA, BMW, Nissan, TVs, and Others. Now, I enjoy my new role of leading a team of automotive experts (in their respective fields) and publish new content on a regular basis on my website and social media.

2 thoughts on “Symptoms of a Bad Timing Chain and Replacement Cost

  1. Make some reviews about timing belt ex, vios cars. How it functions and replacement and so on. Thanks

  2. Good job, am a technician from Kenya but currently working with insurance firms as an assessor. Any leads to join you i would be pleased to work with you guys in the workshop.

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